Agenda Setting

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By: Trevor

Agenda Setting in the Internet The 2000 Presidential Elections are upon us and who do we turn to for information regarding the candidates? What issues will be the hot topics for the election race? For that matter, what will be the hot topics in the media for next week? Just as this paper must be structured, organized, and center around a main idea, so must all information presented to an audience. Information can only be easily processed if it contains some kind of structure. This includes the information that is provided by the media. The media have to structure their ideas and stories on a daily, weekly, and even monthly basis. This process is known as agenda setting. Television, radio, and print medias all use agenda setting, but what about a new media, such as the Internet? Let's begin by understanding agenda setting and its place in mass media theory. The early ideas of agenda setting have been around for decades. Lippmann made reference to the first ideas of agenda setting in his book Public Opinion. He spoke about how the information of the world is much too vast to comprehend without simplifying it (Baran 299). This can be interpreted as receivers of information need to have a structured, well-defined scheme of information. This structured, well-defined scheme of information causes the media to pick and choose information that it feels is relevant to the audience. This is where agenda setting presents itself. Agenda setting is the idea that the media choose topics that it thinks are important and focuses its broadcasts around this topic. McCombs and Shaw fully developed the theory of agenda setting in respect to public agenda in a study in the early 1970's. Their cross-sectional study involved the effects of media agenda setting on public opinion. They revealed that there were indeed correlations between the two, which backed the ideas of Cohen (Brosius 5). They derived that, "the basic agenda-setting hypothesis asserts that the issues and information presented on the media agenda become over time the issues and information on the public agenda (Leckenby). This brings us to the two factors that influence an audience when presenting information through a media: the vividness of presentation and the position of a story (Baran 302). These factors, along with others, induce the audience to feel as if a particular story has important issues within the story. The relative importance of these issues is defined as salience (Leckenby). The salience of an issue determines to what degree of importance the audience and the media place on a particular story. The salience of a story in agenda setting determines the salience of the issues within the public agenda (Leckenby). The vividness of presentation is one way to raise the level of salience of an issue. A story that is presented with graphic detail can cause the public perception of the issue involved to greatly increase. If a story is sensationalized by the media, the audience will unconsciously attach themselves to that particular topic. A story that shows graphic details and pictures of the events of that story cause people to feel as if they were a part of that event. For example, pictures of the crash of Flight 800 stick in the audience's mind. This leads the audience to believe that the crash of Flight 800 is an essential story that we must learn more about. The problem with this is that the audience sometimes focuses too heavily on the story to see the issue at hand. This can negatively affect the media's agenda setting power because the story is too detailed for the audience to see the issue behind the story (Baran 302). The position of a story also affects the salience of an issue. If an article on gun violence in schools is on the front page of The Washington Post, the audience perceives that particular story as having great importance within the scheme of current news topics. Since the audience deems the cover story as more newsworthy than the...
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